Sunday, 25 March 2018

Friendly vs Hutcheson's

Yesterday I took twelve pupils from the HSOG bridge club on the train across town to face Hutcheson's Grammar School. This was the return match of the friendly we played last year. They beat us comfortably last time, but this time we prevailed. In the top match they narrowly beat us, and it was also close on the novices match, but a mismatch on the second match led to a comfortable win overall.

The match was very well organised, with just the right amount of boards (not many) and a decent break in between them for some sandwiches.

It was interesting watching the different standards. For example, on one hand I watched on the top table our pair bid to a solid 4♠ gaining when the other table stopped in an overly conservative 3♠+1. In 4♠ our declarer confidently won the opening lead, drew trumps, unblocked a suit, crossed to dummy, discarded a loser then took a losing finesse and claimed ten tricks.

On the third table things were much more unpredictable. My new players had moments of inspiration where they made thoughtful plays (e.g. overtaking a winner to get to dummy), but then also did inexplicable things (discarding an Ace). At one point I suffered the sensation that must be common to many bridge teachers of watching a new player set up a winner, thinking "he's done that well" only to see him neglect the winner as he hasn't realised it was high.

Our bridge club is much less developed than the Hutcheson's equivalent, and in the bidding the pupils rely more on instinct than counting points. I hope to introduce more accurate bidding and, more importantly, more thoughtful declarer play and defence in the future.

The IMP scoring (and in fact, any scoring), was new to several of them. The two boards below demonstrate it in action:

Board 20
All Vul

W deal
♠ Q 8 7
♥ J 7 6 3
♦ 5 3
♣ A K Q J
♠ T 4 3
♥ A K Q 9
♦ A K 7
♣ 9 8 2
♠ A J
♥ T 8 4 2
♦ 9 8 4 2
♣ 7 5 4
♠ K 9 6 5 2
♥ 5
♦ Q J T 6
♣ T 6 3

Looking at all four hands you would expect East-West to reach a contract in Hearts, and indeed that is what mostly happened. With his solid-looking Hearts West might get overboard, but the hand is flat and the defence have three Club winners along with a Spade, Diamond, and even a trump in North, so 7 tricks looks about right. In reality between 6 and 9 tricks were made when playing in Hearts. Two Wests instead played in NT.

In our match Tables 1 & 2 were paired, as were Tables 3 & 4, and Tables 5 & 6. The table below showed exactly what happened at each table, with all scores from our perspective:

Table 1 Table 2
Jonny & Julianna Amelie & Samthana
1♥ W = 2NT W =
Scores +80 -120
Net score -40
Net IMPs -2 to HSOG
Table 3 Table 4
Louis & KevinMichael & Harry
1NT W -1 4♥x W -4
-100 +1100
+14 to HSOG
Table 5 Table 6
Maxwell & Alex Robert & James
4♥ E -2 3♥ W =
-200 -140
-8 to HSOG

On Tables 1 and 2 our team made 1♥= on Table 1 for +80, but conceded 2NT= on Table 2 for -120. This lead to a 40 point loss overall on that board for that match, which translates to a 2 IMP loss (IMP lookup table here: In the next match we conceded 100 on Table 3 going off in 1NT but gained spectacularly on Table 4 when our North decided he was worth a double of 4♥, and took it four off for 1100. The net 1000 point advantage lead to a 14 IMP gain. In the final match we lost points on both tables leading to an 8 IMP loss. So overall, across the whole match, that was a 4 IMP gain (all down to the big penalty on Table 4).

The next hand had a greater variety of contracts:

Board 21
NS Vul

N deal
♠ A 8 4 3
♥ A 8 3
♦ 8 3
♣ Q 7 3 2
♠ Q J T 7 5
♥ 6
♦ K J 7 6
♣ K T 6
♠ K 6 2
♥ Q T 9
♦ A 9 2
♣ A J 5 4
♠ 9
♥ K J 7 5 4 2
♦ Q T 8 5
♣ 9 8

Table 1 Table 2
Jonny & Julianna Amelie & Samthana
4♥ S -3 4♠ E =
Scores +300 -420
Net score -120
Net IMPs -3 to HSOG
Table 3 Table 4
Louis & KevinMichael & Harry
3♠E= 4♥ S -3
+140 -300
-4 to HSOG
Table 5 Table 6
Maxwell & Alex Robert & James
4♠ E -1 1NT E -1
-50 +50
0 to HSOG

Looking at all the hands East-West have a game in Spades, but that was bid only once. On the table I watched East played in NT, and although the defence got off to the best start in Hearts they somehow let declarer take a trick. But rather than go after the Spades, declarer then went for the short-term gain of cashing all her winners and finally finished minus one.

The table below shows the final results from the different matches (again from our perspective):

Match 1 Match 2 Match 3
First half-13+21+7
Second half+1+27+1
Total-12+48+8HSOG win by 44 IMPs

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Frischmann Junior Pairs

I took nine pupils on the bus to Edinburgh to compete in the National Junior Pairs. Since this event is partly used to select the Scotland Junior team, and Junior goes up to under-26 in bridge, there was a high standard. In fact I'd say there were two competitions, one between the more experienced players to see who would finish top, and one between the more junior juniors to be the best of the rest.

My juniors stepped up to the occasion well, and coped with playing in a more formal setting well. The only time when when standards slipped was when a table consisted of our of our pairs against another one of our pairs. "You're all crazy!" observed a neutral.

With matchpoint scoring, few tables and varying quality there was a large degree of randomness in the scores, and more than ever if you got a good positive score you almost certainly got a good result. Here's a couple of example boards:

It's an interesting board as it's not clear what the final contract might be, and in fact the four tables all went quite differently. Once East-West made a part-score in Hearts, once South went one off in 2♦x. The bigger scores came when South overcalled in 1NT (off four) and when North-South played 3♠x (also off four).

This board belongs to East-West. The one North declarer only managed seven tricks in 3♥ (I'm not sure how this is possible!), which was costly as at two other tables East-West went down in 5♣, and West also made 1NT. I was impressed by one auction:


South made the obvious 1♠ opening bid and West overcalled 2♣. We've not yet discussed doubling first with big hands, but I think many would still overcall the West hand 2♣. North made a bold raise to 2♥, he ought to know this requires ten points but his intention is certainly right. South found a good Heart raise (more effective than bidding 2♠) and West, undeterred, ploughed on with 4♣. East paused for a while then found a reasonable 5♣ raise.

North lead a Spade (partner's suit) which declarer won and drew trumps. She then finessed with a Diamond to the Ten, which South grabbed and cashed two Hearts, for one off. Good bidding, play and defence.

Overall the event was handsomely won by Glen Falconer & Damien Murray with an impressive 73.40%.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018


Zia Mahmood says in his book Bridge, My Way that if your partner is an underbidder you shouldn't try and compensate for her by overbidding, and likewise if your partner tends to overbid you shouldn't compensate for that either. I think the idea is that although trying to account for your partner's bidding might get you a better result on the particular hand you do it on, they'll then keep on bidding that way. Instead, bid normally, and let them get to the wrong contract a few times then they'll correct their ways.

Anna is relatively timid, and I was guilty of trying to compensate for her in a hand last week. Even though I had opened 1NT so she knew our combined strength much better than me I still took matters into my own hands and doubled the final contract, when it should have been her. In a sense I was right to double, as it went two off, but next time I'll try and pass.

No one vul
S deal
♠ A T 9 8 x
♥ x x x x
♦ Q T x
♣ x
♠ x
♥ A Q x x
♦ K x x
♣ A Q J 8 x
♠ Q J 7 x x
♥ T x
♦ J 9 x x x
♣ T x
♠ K x
♥ K J 9 8
♦ A x
♣ K x x x x

I opened the South hand with a maximum 1NT. Playing natural methods, West overcalled 2♣ and North made a weak take-out to 2♠. This was passed round to West who doubled for takeout. East was tempted by a Pass (2♠x probably goes one off, losing two Spades, two Hearts, a Diamond and a Club but might make if West is on lead a lot) but finally went for 3♦, which West recklessly converted to 3♦, hoping that it was her partner who held all of the outstanding points.

As it was, North had two vital high cards, which combined with the 1NT opening in South should have been enough for a double. Unless, of course, North believed that West had a long Club suit, and was hoping to make 3NT based on that. When it came round to me as South I knew that the Clubs weren't running so risked a double.

North lead the ♠T, covered in dummy. I presumed West had the singleton Ace and ducked, letting dummy's ♠Q hold the trick. Declarer took a successful Heart finesse then played on Diamonds, leading low from hand. North popped up with the ♦Q and lead a Spade to my ♠K, and I was then able to set up two Heart tricks for the defence, to go with one Spade (as North never got her ♠A), two Diamonds and the ♣K at the end. Six tricks for the defence meant 3NTx-2.

Declarer does better to play on Diamonds straightaway, and although short of dummy entries may just be able to stumble home with a Spade, two Hearts, three Diamonds and three Clubs. Without those Heart tricks it's not clear where the defence's tricks are coming from, and they could be limited to two Spades and two Diamonds.

Friday, 24 November 2017

Pairs at the Club

Last Monday Phil Moon and I played in the Buchanan. We rather boldly put ourselves into the matchpoint points for Division 1 and 2 players, although neither of us plays for any team at the moment. But we were prompt, completed a half-table, and played reasonably well, finishing on 53%.

We got off to a great start. In fact, my highlight was on Board One. Defending against 1NT I counted that declarer had four winners for the last four tricks, but then realised that if I trapped him in dummy he couldn't get them all. A proud moment.

On the very next deal I picked up this monster hand:

♠ AKQ9654 ♥KJ43 ♦- ♣J2

When partner opened 1♥ I hatched a plan. I began with a 4♦ splinter, then after the expected 4♥ reply I cuebid 4♠. This was met with a cuebid of 5♣ and I was able to bid the slam. This was the full deal:


Phil decided to finesse Hearts for some reason resulting in an overtrick. Of the seven times it was played five times the contract was 6♥, then oddly once each for 3♥ and 3♠.

The hand above was my longest suit, but Phil kept on getting big hands. In general, these distributional hands didn't go well for us. Here's one below:


After North opened 1♠ Phil overcalled 5♦, the bid he was probably going to make anyway. With a good attacking hand South bid on to 5♠. With the West hand I tried 6♦. North pushed on to 6♠, and Phil had a think. To my horror, he pulled out 7♦, which was doubled. I thought I had a bit of defence and we might be able to beat 6♠, but in fact we can't, as long as they finesse Hearts (which they ought to after the 5♦ overcall). 7♦x-4 for -800 was worth 0% of the matchpoints, but in fact was a good sacrifice. Once they bid 6♠, we're stuffed. So maybe it's my 6♦ bid that cost us.

Later Phil had a solid nine-bagger in Hearts, and went for an immediate 5♥ overcall. This was doubled and one off, another bad one when they had no game their way.

I was dummy a lot, and only seemed to play 3NT contracts. That is until this hand, which I present as a play problem:


Phil opened 1♦, I replied 1♥, and he rebid 1NT showing 15-17. Since we don't play Checkback Stayman I jumped to 3♥, which Phil raised to game.

Looking at all four hands you can see that the defence can beat the contract easily with a Spade to the Ace, two Clubs and a Club ruff. You can also see that I have ten top tricks by drawing trumps and running the Diamonds. But of course, it's different for defence and declarer without seeing all the hands.

At the table, North lead the ♥J. My plan was to save the Diamonds until I'd drawn trumps, and try and ruff a Spade along the way. So I lead a Spade up. Things looked very rosy when South took his ♠A, and returned another trump. I won this in dummy, played a Spade to the King and ruffed a Spade. If I can just draw trumps now I'm guaranteed ten tricks even if Diamonds don't split, via 5 Hearts, 2 Spades including the ruff, and 3 Diamonds. But the problem is I'm stuck in dummy. On this layout I can just play three Diamonds, but I didn't know that.

Instead I lead a Club up to the Jack, reasoning that even if it lost worse case would be that I would lose a Spade and two Clubs (and my ten tricks weren't going anywhere - I was thinking of overtricks in fact). Then to my dismay, not only did North produce the ♣AQ she then gave her partner a ruff for one down.

I think I played it right though.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Social Game

Last night John Faben and Phil Moon joined Anna and I for some social bridge. It was a very enjoyable evening, the only disappointment being some gluten free biscuits.

We played a series of Chicago movements and generally bid and played pretty accurately. Featured below is the best hand I got; where of course I overbid:

No one vul
S deal
♠ A 9
♥ K Q 9 4 3
♦ A K 6 5 2
♣ A
♠ Q 4 3 2
♥ 8 5
♦ J 4
♣ T 8 6 4 3
♠ 7
♥ A J T 2
♦ Q T 7
♣ K J 9 7 2
♠ K J T 8 6 5
♥ 7 6
♦ 9 8 3
♣ Q 5

First hand vulnerable John opened a Weak Two, with a poor hand but decent Spades. I figured if he had even ♠KQxxxx slam could be good, so launched straight into Blackwood. I then had a vague thought that we might be better in Hearts or Diamonds but it was too late now, and John replied showing one Ace. I then asked for the Queen of trumps, which was denied, so settled for 5♠.

Unfortunately John's only points outside Spades were the fairly useless ♣Q, so this was going to be a struggle.

He got a lead of a low Heart to the ♥A and ♥J return, then drew trumps losing one to the ♠Q. He now needed the rest. Under the pressure of running his trumps West had to discard the ♣K which gave declarer another trick but that was only his tenth (five Spades, one Hearts, two Diamonds, two Clubs). I thought you might be able to make it if you both ruff the Club in dummy and set up Hearts for a Diamond discard, but I'm not sure if you've got the entries for that.

I just put the hand into Bridge Solver (with the exact spot cards above, which might not be accurate), and it confirms that only 10 tricks are available. If you try and set up the Hearts you end up ruffing too many times in your hand, and West gets a long trump trick. So North's exuberant bidding is to blame.

At the end of the evening Anna emerged as the individual winner.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Nice day for bridge

On a family holiday in Nice I made contact with a couple of local Bridge Clubs, but we never quite made it. Instead we played a few hands in the villa. Our opponents had just been taught overcalls, and this was one of the demonstration hands from their lessons:

No one vul
S deal
♠ x x x
♥ J T x x
♦ x x
♣ A J x x
♠ A K J x x
♥ x x
♦ K T x
♣ T x x
♠ Q x x x
♥ Q x
♦ Q 9 x x
♣ K Q x
♠ x
♥ A K x x x
♦ A J x x
♣ x x x

I opened the South hand 1♥, West overcalled 1♠ and North raised to 2♥, just as the teaching notes suggest. Now East has a decision. In the beginner course in Norwich Bridge School the responses to overcalls are more or less the same as responses to opening bids, so with 11 points East should bid 3♠.

I don't think this is a particularly good system, as when responding to overcalls playing strength and number of trumps are much more important than High Card Points, but it keeps things simple. Here, East only bid 2♠, not unreasonable.

I then bid 3♥ as South, just competing the hand with a known nine card trump fit. This bid is not invitational, and Anna passed anyway with a minimum.

With trumps behaving there are an easy five trump tricks, two Aces and two ruffs in dummy so 3♥ made easily.

Despite having more High Card points if East-West get to 3♠ they will do well to make it. They need this lucky layout in Clubs with the Ace onside, and also to find the Jack of Diamonds.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Scottish Schools Bridge Championship

Last week I took 11 pupils to the Stirling and Union Bridge Club for the Schools Championship. This is the third time I've been, and I think it was the best yet. As in previous occasions, the battle was between us and Hutchesons' Grammar School, and they took the prizes. There were eight teams altogether:

1st Hutchesons' Manta Rays
2nd Hutchesons' Coyotes
3rd HSOG Beetroots
4th Aberdeen Plus
5th HSOG Dragon Fruits

Report on SBU website here.

This was the most exciting hand

My pupils have between 0.5 and 2.5 years experience, and we've barely got on to slams. So I was delighted to see that my top pair bid 6NT here, and they even got the Spade finesse correct for an overtrick. Some other less experienced declarers played in 3NT and made 11 tricks. It's a good teaching hand, as 12 tricks are guaranteed as long as you do the seemingly obvious thing of tackling Spades before cashing all of your winners.

The Hutchesons' Seniors were more adventurous. The Coyotes bid to 7NT, via keycard asking for Kings and Aces, and the Manta Rays somehow got to 7♠. Both pairs made 13 tricks, and you can't do better than that.

The winning team with coach John Dimambro

The Cauliflowers